BWW INTERVIEWS: BUGS BUNNY AT THE SYMPHONY II with SYDNEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Conductor and Co-Creator George Daugherty Shares His Passion And Enthusiasm With BWW Sydney
This July, George Daugherty and co-creator David Ka Lik Wong bring their new concert BUGS BUNNY AT THE SYMPHONY II to the Sydney Opera House. Teaming up with Sydney Symphony Orchestra again, they will pair the iconic Warner Bros animation with live orchestral performance to entrance and delight audiences of all ages and backgrounds. The concerts, which originated 26 years ago, prove that regardless of where people have grown up the Looney Tunes cartoons are timeless and global. The international success of the tours are testament to the universal appeal of the cartoons that introduced many people to classical music even if they didn't realise the origins of the fabulous soundtracks that help set them apart from the rest of the genre.
Cartoons And Careers?
Daugherty "absolutely" believes that the cartoons influenced his choice in following a career in music. He shared that "like so many kids, I received my first exposure to the great classical composers courtesy of Maestro Bugs Bunny, and these indelibly, classic Looney Tunes cartoons." He knows that he isn't alone in these childhood memories as over the 25 years Audience members "constantly tell us they were drawn to the music as kids, even though they didn't understand it was based on classical composer, which is sort of the magic of it all". The pairing of the "brilliant" animations and "vibrantly" interpreted music allowed kids, particularly in the English speaking world, to be exposed to the golden age composers like "Wagner, Rossini, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Smetana, Strauss, Von Suppe, Donizetti, Mendelssohn, and a ton of others" that were all celebrated in the cartoons.
Daugherty went on to point out that the "Warner Bros. creative team did not 'dull down' the music", ensuring that they "did not make it 'cartoony'". They treated the iconic works with respect as they "combined the classical compositions and themes with their own scores", ensuring that they were not "derogatory" to the original works and not insulting the ability of the audience to appreciate the music. This combination and careful treatment has gone on to make the "great music totally irresistible, and unforgettable, to kids and adults who weren't normally drawn to classical music". He cites the response that most people give when hearing The ride of the Valkyries, stating that 90 percent are likely to respond with "Kill da Wabbit, Kill da Wabbit" as opposed to the 10 percent that will recognise the work as being composed by Wagner. These childhood memories have also been the reason that tunes like Rossini's THE BARBER OF SEVILLE Overture has been so widely used in comedic television commercials as people connect their fond memories of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd tearing around the stage in THE RABBIT OF SEVILLE.
As the concerts have toured, Daugherty has seen the magic of the cartoons and music as they appeal to a wide variety of people, from kids, first time concert goers and "seasoned classical music aficionados". The concerts speak to people of many different levels, from the pure joy of the comedy to the "inside musical jokes" that "savvy classical music fans" pick up on.
lassical Music And Cartoons?
Daugherty pays homage to "the great Looney Tunes composer" Carl Stalling when talking about the connection between music and cartoons as Stalling "literally invented the art of composing for animation". Whilst wary of the overuse of the term "genius" in modern vernacular, he cites Carl Stalling as a true genius. Whilst Stalling was an "impeccably trained classical musician" who started playing piano at the age of six he has had a connection to "film music" "almost from the time film was invented". He was the principle theatre organist at the silent movie house in his hometown of Lexington Missouri at the age of 12 along and went on to be the theatre organist at St Louis Theatre (later Powell Symphony Hall) for a time. The beautiful Powell Symphony Hall still stands and the Bugs Bunny AT THE SYMPHONY is often performed there with the St Louis Symphony, providing a wonderful connection between the composer and the longevity of his creations.
Daugherty explains that "most importantly, there is nothing "cartoony" about the music, other than the animated visuals", describing Stalling's arrangements and compositions as "actually extremely difficult" and "very virtuosic". Stalling, and his colleague and successor, Milt Franklyn were both "master musicians" and "superb orchestrators". He also notes that "Stalling also had a wry musical sense of humour that was incredibly sophisticated", as proven in his ability to know when to "unleash the full fury of the entire orchestra", and when to be restrained and "apply a minimalist touch for even more stunning effect". He gives the example of Wile E. Coyote's descents which one would expect to end in a "big crash of music", but are instead punctuated by a simple, quiet pianissimo "toot" of the alto flute.
For the Daugherty, and also the musicians, Stalling, and Franklyn's brilliance is recognised in the compositions which are of "incredibly high musical standard". This quality, when combined with the need for exact synchronisation to the cartoons being projected onto the big screen that sits above the orchestra ensures that this is "a very unique experience for these orchestras" and Daugherty claims he is "yet to see a bored musician in 25 years with this project.
Daugherty recalls Warner Bros. Animation Director Chuck Jones personally telling him that "given the option of watching one of his own legendary cartoons in silence with no music, OR of listening to Carl Stalling's music from one of his cartoons with no picture - that Chuck would have, any day, picked Carl's music and a blank screen". This admission is potentially one of the "most amazing accolades about Stalling" and "captures exactly what Stalling's genius was".
As with many people, Daugherty's earliest memories of Looney Tunes is "sitting on the living room floor on a Saturday morning, watching these incredible cartoons and hearing the phenomenal music". He recalls that "the Warner Bros Sound is so distinctive", because of Stalling and Franklyn's compositions but also the "magnificent" Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra. His first memory of any of the cartoons is THE RABBIT OF SEVILLE as it was
"the first one that really grabbed me in every possible way. Musically, Visually, the bold colours, and Rossini's incredible music as reimagined by Stalling."
He "vividly remembers seeing that cartoon as a 4 year old" and has "never stopped loving it". The other work that stuck in his memory is WHAT'S OPERA DOC?, filled with it's "larger-than-life Wagnerian largess and Chuck Jones' brilliant direction".
Whilst Daugherty acknowledges that all of the Looney Tunes characters are brilliant, his favourite is Bugs Bunny. He explains this affection as "Bugs is the lightning rod for these cartoons and for this entire genre of animation". Of the work selected for the concert Bugs conducts; plays piano concertos "including with his feet"; sings opera, being "probably the first opera "heroine" to perform both Rossini and Wagner in the same concert since Dame Joan Sutherland or Maria Callas"; dances ballet; and plays countless other instruments throughout the evening. Daugherty considers the famous celluloid rabbit to be "the most multifaceted concert musician in history". He feels that he has toured the world with all the characters for over two and a half decades so they "know each over very well" regardless of the fact that Daugherty is human and the characters are animations, they are "still incredibly real" to him.
Surprises Of All Sorts
Whilst Daugherty thinks that "after doing this concert for so long, there are very few surprises", he does recall that one of the earliest surprises was the number of people that come back "over, and over, and over" to see the concert. They have seen people that have grown up with the concerts over the past 26 years, coming as kids and now bring their own kids, or even grand kids. He has noticed that people "continue to react to the cartoons and the music as exuberantly and freshly as they did they first time they came to the concert". He sees the audiences "extraordinary reactions" as the "ultimate compliment". He feels that the experience is "very visceral compared to the restrained quiet of a normal concert hall etiquette". Audiences respond with whoops, hollers, laughter and loud applause, even singing along with the characters. Whilst original audiences were in their 20's and 30's, the concert halls are now filled with a "hugely mixed age demographic" but the response remains as lively. Whilst Bugs Bunny AND THE SYMPHONY II is primarily a symphonic concert it is also "a cinematic, theatrical experience" where "audience reaction, laughter, and participation is a huge part of that experience", much in the same way these cartoons were originally made to be seen "in packed movie palaces of the 1940's and 50's". Daugherty notes that this origin is also evident in the way the works were designed, timed to allow for applause and laughter.
Daugherty also recalls a different kind of surprise, in the form of the audience stories and connections that have come about from the concerts. He shared the story of a couple that approached the performers after a Chicago concert and shared the news that they'd met at a Bugs Bunny AT THE SYMPHONY concert 8 years earlier, the first time either had been to a symphony orchestra concert, and had since gotten married, and now subscribed to the Chicago Symphony.
Whilst Bugs Bunny AT THE SYMPHONY II will include many classic reels, audiences will be treated to "two absolutely brilliant CGI/3D cartoons, RABID RIDER and COYOTE FALLS" that most people have never seen before. Daugherty explains that whilst these cartoons use new technology, "they have been lovingly created in the timeless, perfect Looney Toons style that has always imbued these brilliant 7 minute cinematic jewels".
This concert will also treat audiences to more of Daffy Duck, who has proven a challenge in the past because of "as Granny calls it, "Constant Jabbering"". His "comic brilliance" which is "undeniable" will be seen in two "absolutely iconic, fabulous Daffy epics... SHOW BIZ BUGS and ROBIN HOOD DAFFY", much to the delight of Daffy fans.
Connection In A Digital World
When asked what Daugherty would like audiences to "take away" from the concert, he highlighted the complexity of today's society that is so dependent on technology for 'connection'. He observed that people "spend more time alone, isolated with their digital devices, seeking their entertainment experience hooked to earbuds staring at their iPads or iPhones, and shutting out the people around them". He expressed his love of the fact that Bugs Bunny AND THE SYMPHONY creates
"an opposite scenario, and brings audiences together by the thousands per evening, not only to revel in these iconic cartoons and hear the greatest orchestras in the world play the phenomenal scores... but most importantly, to LAUGH together at the brilliant expoits of Bugs, Emer, Daffy, and the rest of the masterful Looney Tunes cast of geniuses"
He shares that the performances are also wonderful for the performers as they perform in the iconic Sydney Opera House with the spectacular Sydney Symphony as a "couple thousand Audience members across a really huge age-spread all laugh, cheer, and enjoy themselves".
Above the appreciation for the animation, music and the "creative masters who so fantastically made these cartoons", he wants people to experience and remember the "giddy, laugh-inducing sense of joy that these particular cartoons bring to everybody who experience them".
Daugherty is delighted to be back at the Sydney Opera House, the location for the first international touring performance of Bugs Bunny AT THE SYMPHONY over 20 years ago which also marked their first major international success. He acknowledges the skill of the Sydney Symphony, stating that they are a "magnificent ensemble of unparalleled talent, equal to any orchestra in the world". He also recalls that Sydney audiences are "always very, very special, and so demonstrative" so whilst the audiences will "revel in the magical sense of joy", so will he and co-creator David Ka Lik Wong and their entire team.
Bugs Bunny AT THE SYMPHONY with the SYDNEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
Wednesday 13th July 2016: 1pm and 7pm
Thursday 14th July 2016: 1pm